I’ve finished watching the first four episodes of Hulu’s new original mini-series (or “event series” as they are billing it) 11.22.63 (2016). I’m a sucker for a good opening title sequence and this one grabbed me, much like Amazon’s recent alternate history series, The Man in the High Castle (2015-), it makes you feel like you are about to see something quality. It’s great to see so many new players in the content creation business and putting out serious efforts to win over audiences.
Unlike Amazon Prime and Netflix, however, Hulu is still rooted in the old TV model, where a new episode comes out once a week, rather than an entire season coming out on the same day. This is the way that HBO, Showtime, and other traditional outlets are still producing their shows, even as they make the online move, and it makes sense, in a way. They want to ensure that you continue to subscribe for the entire run of the show, rather than binge watching everything in a weekend and then canceling your free trial. The problem with this thinking, however, is that you want to keep people as subscribers forever, and if other services are releases an entire season all at once, and putting out enough series year round to keep us subscribing, they may seem more attractive than the old school way of doing it. We’ll see.
Any husker du, if you’re not familiar with it, 11.22.63 was originally a time travel novel by Stephen King. It centers around the assassination of President Kennedy, who was killed on that day, but it’s really the story of a Maine English Teacher (something like King himself) who is given the opportunity to change the world. It is the only Stephen King novel I have actually made it through – to be fair I haven’t really tried many of them – but it has also been give high praise by a number of people I have run into, King fans and non-fans alike. I was excited when I heard they were going to make a movie out of it; more so when I learned it would be a multi-part breakout show to put Hulu on the content creation map. The final production, however, is a mixed bag.
11.22.63 is well acted and the sets look very nice, especially the vintage cars, but it suffers the same fate that many other shows based on books do: It’s just not as good. I understand that the show’s creators felt they had to cut some things from this 1,600+ page book, but their choices make little sense to me. Without giving too much away, why did they expand Bill Turcotte’s (George MacKay) role and get rid of all the failed attempts to alter the past that Jake Epping (James Franco) went threw before trying to take on the assassination? More important to me is the way the show deals with conspiracy theories.
Mild *Spoilers* It’s been awhile since I listened to the audiobook but I am sure that George de Mohrenschildt was not so prominent, nor was the main character so convinced that de Mohrenschildt was working with/for the CIA in the book as he is in the show. In real life George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian living in Texas who befriended Lee and Marina Oswald. Many conspiracy theorists are convinced de Mohrenschildt was the key figure who brought Lee into a massive plot, despite the lack of any evidence to prove this. They find it very suspicious that de Mohrenschildt committed suicide shortly before he was going to testify in front of a Congressional Committee – the House Select Committee on Assignations (HSCA) – and they suspect he was murdered. The problems is here are many: 1) De Mohrenschildt changed his story from what he originally told he Warren Commission. 2) De Mohrenschildt wrote the manuscript of a book, which was given to the HSCA and is a part of the public record. 3) De Mohrenschildt spoke to the press about his unclear and wild accusation and this too was a part of the public records. You don’t kill somebody, “before he talks,” when he has already talked. Lastly, 4) de Mohrenschildt tried unsuccessfully to kill himself on more than one occasion before succeeding and spent time in a mental hospital.
In the 11.22.63 show’s version of history, de Mohrenschildt is seen meeting with mysterious men in Dallas, in 1960, while Oswald was still living in the Soviet Union, and de Mohrenschildt is overheard using the full name – Lee Harvey Oswald – a man he had not yet met. None of this ever happened, nor was de Mohrenschildt standing by in Lee’s backyard while Marina took the infamous photos of her husband with his weapons, but 11.22.63 pretends as if he was. The show seems to be trying hard to appeal to the conspiracy segment of the audience and play along with the fantasy that something, “doesn’t add up,” about the whole deal.
The biggest problem I have with the filmed version of this story, however, is the fact that I do not find it as compelling or creepy as the book. Nevertheless, I feel invested in it now and want to see how the other half plays out. I suspect it may get more intense from here on out. With an 8.9 rating on IMDb, out of more than 6,800 votes, and the backing of Executive Producers J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, it probably doesn’t matter what I say about it one way or another, but I’ll tell you my final thoughts anyway a month from now, when it’s all over.